There seems to be a consistent pattern among people who start to discover the wonders of off-camera flash: you start out with one speedlight, such as the excellent Godox Ving V850 which I reviewed here, and take that through its paces. Sooner or later, though, you'll encounter situations where that one speedlight just isn't powerful enough, for example on sunny days or when you want to use big diffusers. Diffusers eat flash power for breakfast! So, if you want to photograph people in sunny locations with a diffuser such as an umbrella or a softbox, like I do on my India trips, one speedlight just won't cut it. So you add a second. And a third... and possibly a fourth.
That's where things start to become complicated and heavy and not to mention: expensive: to use all those flashes, you need special adapters such as Lastolite's Triflash or Quad Bracket or the Foursquare. Also, unless you're working with a flash like the Godox with its custom li-ion battery, working with multiple hotshoe flashes means charging a hell of a lot of batteries before you go out on a shoot, especially if those flashes require separate, battery powered triggers, too. All of a sudden, you're more like a magician juggling up to 24 rechargeable batteries (that's without counting spares) than a photographer.
That's where the more powerful, battery powered studio lights come in. When I started my research, I noticed there were quite a lot of options availble. They break down into two broad categories: the ones where the battery pack and head are separate and the ones where battery and head are integrated. Both systems have their pros and cons, but for my use (I often work alone), I wanted something integrated. It's just less fuss to set up and most of the shooting I do is rather run-and-gun (or at least as run-and-gun as using a flash allows).
I had noticed the Profoto B1 - with that marketing campaign, who hasn't - and although it looks like a nice enough unit, both the price and the specs were a little too much for me. As I was planning on using the flash in conjunction with my Fuji X cameras, I could not use (so I did not want to pay for) features such as High Speed Sync or TTL control. So after careful deliberation I opted for a Chinese brand: the Jinbei HD 600 II.
What's in the box?
Well, quite a lot for the price, actually:
- the Jinbei flash head itself, obviously
- the battery
- a battery charger
- a plastic protection cap to protect the flash tube when you're transporting the flash and don't have the reflector attached to it
- a standard reflector
- two handles: one that is meant as a hand grip to handhold the flash and another that is meant to attach the flash to a light stand or tripod: I generally don't take a light stand with me when I travel but I use my 3 Legged Thing Brian tripod as a makeshift light stand - it extends to over 2 meters!
- a nice soft padded carrying case that is actually useful in the field (I'm looking at you, Elinchrom!)
- a custom trigger which also lets you remotely set the power
What are the specs?
I won't bore you too much with the technical details but suffice to say that the Jinbei is rated at a whopping 600 Wattseconds of power and that the battery lasts for about 500 full power pops before needing a recharge (separate batteries are available for purchase). The flash has a user-selectable slow or fast recycle mechanism (with the latter being not as good for the battery life) and the power can be changed (remotely or on the flash itself) from full power down to 1/128th.
The flash takes between 0.3 to 4.5 seconds (depending on the power level) to recycle in Slow mode and between 0.3 and 3.5 seconds in Fast recycle mode. That's not blazing fast, but remember this is a battery operated flash we're talking about. Also, that four second wait is only at full power... And with 600 Ws under the hood, you won't always be working this flash at its maximum power anyway! This flash at one eight power is about as powerful as a speedlight at full power.
The Jinbei weighs a little under 2.5 kg and measures 124 x 124 x 268 mm.
It has a 5 W LED modeling light but frankly I never use it because I always use the flash outside in bright and sunny conditions anyway where any modeling light would simply be too weak.
How does it handle?
At 2.48 kgs, the Jinbei is of course a lot heavier than a traditional speedlight, although it's still a bit lighter than a Profoto B1. In fact, one of the (many) advantages of the Fuifilm X-system for me is that, since my camera system itself weighs considerably less than before, I can 'reinvest' some of those weight savings back into useful accessories. And the Jinbei sure does qualify as useful!
Also, when you look at the power to weight ratio, it isn't so heavy anymore: depending on how you calculate, a 600 Ws flash has about the same power output as 6 to 10 regular speedlights! Try schlepping those around, let alone handholding them in the air or putting them on a light stand!
For short sessions, I have no problem handholding the Jinbei. It does help though that in my other hand, I'm generally holding a relatively lightweight X-T1 with a prime lens or even an X100-T... I really love the fact that the EVF lets me previsualize the amount of ambient light I allow in my pictures but that's food for another blogpost entirely!
So far, so good...
If there's one gripe I have with the Jinbei, it's the fact that the proprietary mechanism of attaching any of the two supplied handles is a bit fiddly. Not that it will break or the flash will come loose, but the flash just sits a bit wobbly on the umbrella adapter. I haven't had any serious issues with it and my buddy Matt Brandon who bought the same flash after seeing me use it in Rajasthan, solved the issue by changing the screw. I just hate DIY stores!
Oh, and while I'm venting, I might as well say that the trigger is rather basic. I really wish it had an LCD so I could see the power settings but on the upside, it at least lets you change the power remotely. And it's small so it does not get in the way of my Fuji's control wheels... so maybe I should be careful what I wish for!
The Jinbei uses the popular Bowens mount which gives you loads of downright cheap to affordable modifier options. I like to use it with the Phottix Luna Folding Softbox, for example, which I can set up in under a minute. In India though, I generally use it with an umbrella: in fact, as nice as it is, I don't use the supplied carrying case but rather put the flash with a Lastolite Trifold umbrella (closed, obviously) attached to the supplied umbrella adapter in a Vanguard Heralder 38 shoulder bag. I've refitted the velcro dividers in this bag so that there's still room for my second camera body. A nice extra of this bag is that it can also hold my 3 Legged Thing Brian which I use more as a light stand than as an actual tripod! I must say that the flash and the tripod start to weigh after a day of lugging them around so I'm considering putting them in an F-Stop Loka UL backpack om my next trip. I'll let you know how that goes!
Apparently, if you use a different trigger that Jinbei are currently working at, the HD600 II will also do high-speed sync with Nikon and Canon cameras, but not with Fuji cameras. I can't tell you much more about it as I use the Phottix Indra with my Nikon D800 whenever I want to use High Speed Sync. The Phottix, which I'll review later, is also a very powerful portable, battery operated studio flash and does TTL, too with Nikon and Canon. As such, I feel like it's more of an alternative (and a really good one!) for the Profoto B1 than for the Jinbei.
How much does it cost?
Well, that's probably the best part of this whole review and it's also that part that will make you forgive the flash any of its few shortcomings: the whole lot (flash, reflector, charger, battery, trigger, handles and carrying case) will set you back... a little under 600 €, including 20% VAT! Which, in photography terms is cheap. Really cheap!
For the money, this flash is hard to beat. It packs a lot of power in a relatively lightweight package and is easy to handle. The trigger allows you to conveniently set the power remotely and the Bowens mount is handy because there's a really wide range of affordable modifiers available for it.
Whenever I use this flash during one of my flash workshops, people are amazed about the price/performance ratio of the Jinbei. Add to that a 2 year warranty and even if it totally falls apart on the 731st day, I'd still consider it a great bargain.
What could be improved
- An LCD on the trigger with a power-readout would be nice
- The way the handle attaches to the flash (a bit wobbly now)
What I like
- High power: 600 Ws
- All-in-one design, no cables or separate power pack!
- At 2.5 kgs, relatively lightweight for the power
- Battery lasts some 500 full power pops
- Bowens mount means lots of affordable modifiers
- Complete package with reflector, handles and trigger
- Very competitively priced
Where can you get one?
Oddly enough, distribution of this flash is very limited here in Europe. I only found one store that carries this HD 600 II: I bought my unit at the ever so friendly guys of Fotomorgen.de, a German online reseller that has great service. They speak English (click on the Online Chat icon at the top left of their website) and if you have a VAT number, they will ship VAT-free outside of Germany. I can really recommend them. They are very knowledgeable and also carry a great range of lighting accessories.
If you're in the US, Adorama sells a rebadged version of this flash called the Flashpoint Rovelight RL-600. I believe the attachment of the handle is a little different - which can only be an improvement - but otherwise it has the same specs. It exists in two versions: one with Adorama's own mount and one with a Bowens mount just like the actual Jinbei.
If you want to practice your off-camera flash skills in one of the most photogenic places on earth, join Fujifilm X-photographer Matt Bandon and me on the North India Photo Tour (Feb. 14 to 24, 2016). You can learn more about this fantastic photo workshop here.